The government will push ahead with Brexit legislation that could break international law – despite fears that it could upset the EU at a critical time for trade talks.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News the government’s Internal Market Bill would return to the House of Commons today.
Time is running out to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, with Thursday’s summit of EU leaders seen as a deadline for an agreement to be reached.
This weekend saw further talks on a possible deal, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
However the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was said to have told the bloc’s national ambassadors on Monday morning that he was “rather downbeat” about the prospects of a deal.
An EU source told Sky News they were “not expecting anything substantial yet” although they predicted “some more drama” and said trade talks were “moving in the right direction on fishing”.
On Sunday night, a UK government source had said there was “no breakthrough” on fisheries, which has been among the most intractable issues during the trade negotiations.
The Internal Market Bill, which has been condemned by critics both in Westminster and abroad, seeks to allow ministers to override the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU.
The government has admitted this could see the UK breach international law, but argue it is needed to protect the integrity of the UK and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
However, in a sign progress could yet be made on Irish border issues, it was announced senior cabinet minister Michael Gove would meet with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Monday.
A Uk government spokesman said the pair would meet to “discuss issues related to their work as co-chairs of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee”.
“The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee oversees UK and EU implementation, application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland Protocol,” they added.
“The work of the Joint Committee is separate from the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations.”
Last month, the House of Lords removed the most controversial parts of the Internal Market Bill.
But Mr Cleverly told Kay Burley those clauses would be reintroduced to the bill when it returns to the Commons today.
“It contains clauses that we may need to rely on and, if we do need to rely on them, better that they’re there,” he said.
“It’s an insurance policy, like all insurance policies you’d prefer not to have to use it. But you would kick yourself if you need it and it isn’t there.”
Asked whether it was worth risking the EU’s anger by reintroducing the controversial legislation, Mr Cleverly replied: “Not having that in place would weaken our position and actually give an advantage to the EU negotiators.
“And, in a negotiation like this, it is really key that both parties negotiate hard – I’m sure the EU negotiators are negotiating hard, but so is David Frost and our negotiating team.
“We do it in a spirit of positivity, but we do want to get a deal that works for the UK, an agreement that works for the UK.”
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